COLUMBIA — Gerald Caetano knows how frustrating it can be to return to college after serving in the military.
The MU junior and president of Mizzou Student Veterans Association, who was in the Army for 11 years and completed two tours of Iraq, said he was lucky because his billing and cashier problems were usually fixed within days.
“My problems haven’t been as bad as other people’s; I’ve actually been pretty fortunate,” Caetano said. “Mine was more of different agencies on campus getting stuff input into the computer system to get me into their system.”
But other students have not been as successful in dealing with the university while on active duty.
Take, for example, former student Aaron Rinehart. When he returned in April 2006 from a yearlong tour of duty, he discovered that “incomplete” grades in four of his unfinished classes had become F’s. He also had to pay for some classes twice when the reimbursement promised by MU for three classes he dropped didn’t come through before he re-enrolled.
To minimize problems such as these, MU announced Wednesday that it has created a “veteran friendly” task force that will investigate easing the obstacles student veterans sometimes face.
The goal is to make sure there are fewer barriers in university policies and procedures that may impact both outgoing and incoming military personnel, said committee co-chair Roger Worthington.
“There’s a recognition across the country that with the amount of military activity going on in the world that involves the United States, that we are likely to be experiencing an increase in the number of veterans returning from service to higher education, and they have special needs in returning from active duty and integrating back into an academic environment,” Worthington said.
The 21-member committee, composed of faculty, staff and students, will look into the areas of enrollment, financial aid, advising, housing, supportive resources and transferring credit hours from other universities. Co-chair Lee Henson said the committee hopes to learn from the veterans themselves to make MU a “model campus” for returning veterans to attend school.
“I think a lot of Americans realize that when the country let down veterans from the Vietnam era, we didn’t do as much as we should have,” he said. “I think a lot of us would like to be sure that returning veterans are offered the thanks and respect they deserve.”
In January 2007, MU implemented a policy that allowed returning veterans six months to complete work for previous courses, which is half the time allowed all other students. That policy was revoked in March to give veterans the same amount of time to complete the work as other students. University officials maintained that the previous policy had never been enforced and the error was just awkward wording, the Missourian reported at the time.
Under the current policy, students who are called to active duty and unable to complete the term have two options, according to the MU Registrar’s Web site. They can either withdraw from the university and receive a refund, or they can take an “incomplete” grade for the courses and make up the work no later than one year after returning.
There are currently 250 military personnel on the MU campus, including both veterans and other personnel who may not have served a tour of duty but are still receiving benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Worthington said.
He said he anticipates the task force, which has formally been in the planning stages since June, to present its recommendations to the campus as soon as possible.
Rinehart said he still hasn’t been reimbursed for the classes he started during the spring semester of 2005. But everything else has been worked out, he said, and he is now an MU graduate.
And the task force, he said, is a great idea that will ensure future students have a little bit easier time returning to school after serving their country.